The United Way Peterborough and District says its latest point-in-time (PiT) count shows homelessness has reached a crisis level in Peterborough, Ont.
The bi-annual count involved a team of 50 volunteers canvassing the city from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Dec. 9, 2021 to survey people experiencing homelessness and issues they are facing such as addictions, accessing services and more.
Officials caution the data is a “snap-shot” of homelessness and do not reflect the entire picture or current situation in the city.
The full report can be found online.
30% more on homeless by-name list in Peterborough compared to 2021
On that day, 176 people participated in the survey of the 204 people who were approached. On that same day, there were 288 people on the city’s by-name list (BNL). The BNL identifies (consent given) experiencing homelessness, updated in real time and profiles their history, health and housing needs. In May 2022, the city reported as of April 2022, there were 317 people are on the BNL — compared to 244 at the same time last year.
Of the 176 respondents in the point-in-time count, 84 per cent were between the age of 25 to 60; six per cent were age 65 and over and 10 per cent were labelled as youth between age 16 to 24. Approximately 27 per cent of respondents identified as being Indigenous who reported experiencing homelessness 48 more days than a non-Indigenous respondent.
On that night, 46 per cent of respondents said they were staying a shelter versus 27 per cent who stayed outside and 20 per cent who were unsure of their location.
The report notes for every two people experiencing chronic homelessness that are staying in shelters, there are three people experiencing chronic homeless sleeping unsheltered.
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“Numbers matter because people matter,” said United Way CEO Jim Russell. “These are our numbers, and these are our people. This is a snapshot of homelessness in our community, a picture that needs to be changed.”
Compared to the 2018 point-in-time count, living rough (sleeping outside), had increased by 350 per cent — to 47 on Dec. 9, 2021, from six individuals previously. There were only four listed in 2016.
In 2021, 27 per cent of respondents were living rough.
Kerri Kightley, the United Way’s count coordinator, attributed the increase in part to more volunteers reaching individuals, however, she notes shelter availability is one main factor for the spike.
“There are more people living outside because there is less shelter space,” she said. “And there’s a giant crisis around housing and affordable housing that we’re experiencing right now in this population.”
The report also noted chronic homelessness — defined as six months of 180 days in the last year — increased by 45 per cent since the 2018 PiT count. Approximately 71 per cent of respondents reported experiencing chronic homelessness.
Kightley noted 44 per cent of respondents were homeless for all 12 months. Approximately one in five respondents didn’t know where they were going to sleep on the night of the PiT count.
One number that jumped out for Kightley was four per cent of respondents had children.
“That’s 14 children total among seven (single-parent) families,” she said. “We are concerned that women and children are homeless — we need more spaces for women and children in Peterborough to help them link to the services that they need.”
The report also notes 10 per cent of people surveyed had been in Peterborough for under a year, down from 20 per cent reported in 2018.
“So that kind of debunks that assumption we have around people being drawn to Peterborough (for its services),” said Kightley.
“We can see people who are experiencing homelessness — these are our people — these are people who have been here longer than two years, most of that population has been here for awhile.”
Kightley noted the city’s opioid crisis has impacted the marginalized and homeless. The report says 69 per cent of respondents say they have been impacted — either directly or with a loved one — by drugs. More than three-quarters of the Indigenous respondents had reported being impacted by drug poisonings.
Thirty-four respondents identified substance issue as a reason for housing loss.
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Christian Harvey with One City Peterborough, an agency that helps the city’s marginalized population, says while he’s grateful for the report, its numbers aren’t surprising and “amplify” the message from those experiencing homelessness.
“We’ve heard these things before,” said Harvey. “And I’m grateful for the point-in-time count but can also hear the frustration of those who live it because they have been saying this … my hope hope is that for every report it amplifies the voice of people living it and we begin to hear it.”
Harvey also was critical of the overnight city’s Stop-Gap Drop-in Centre at the Bridge Youth Centre launched the night of the point-in-time count which was capped at 15 individuals to sleep from midnight to 6 a.m. who couldn’t access a shelter space.
“Every night we were at capacity — people would have to rotate through,” he said, later calling it inhumane. “We would phone to try to get a person into a shelter but they were full every night or to a hotel — we might get one or two there. People had nowhere to go. And we’ve been hearing this over and over again.
“I hope with this report we stop hearing ‘people just need to use a shelter’ — there is nowhere to go.”
Harvey says the key is to continue to listen to those who are homeless to find solutions.
“This report can be a wakeup call for us to do better,” he said.
Dorothy Olver, program manager of social services with the City of Peterborough, says the city and community partners over the past few years have formulated a more organized and combined response to homelessness with a coordinated access system. But she admits more needs to be done.
“Although we’ve made some changes and we’ve made some progress, it’s not enough,” she said. “And our citizens definitely deserve better.”
She says one organization or entity can’t tackle the issue alone and “far more urgency” is needed from the community and all levels of government.
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Dr. Thomas Piggott, Peterborough Public Health’s medical officer of health, said housing is a “critical need.” The report noted 52 per cent of respondents reported an illness or medical condition while 40 per cent had physical limitations.
“It’s not just a health issue; it’s a human issue,” he said.
Piggott also says there is a “vicious cycle” as health issues — physical, mental and substance abuse — cause homelessness.
“And homelessness that exacerbates and causes those health issues,” he said.
He says the impact of health issues for homeless has shown the average life expectancy is 42 years for men and 52 years for women — nearly half of the Canadian average life expectancy.
“When people have adequate, safe and affordable housing they desire, these issues start to resolve themselves,” said Piggott. “We need health systems that support people but housing is so fundamental, that without it we can’t start addressing those issues.”
The report also makes a number of recommendations including “deep” investments for affordable housing from all levels of government, better connect with Indigenous communities, improve access to shelters, increasing transitional housing spaces for youth and continue ongoing evaluations of the city’s homelessness system.
“This way beyond a curiosity anymore; this way beyond an emergency — this is a crisis,” said Russell “And if we don’t ignite our imaginations (to find solutions), it will slip and evolve into a catastrophe.”
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